May 24, 2007

life in journalism: allowing self to be manipulated

In India, at least, 80-90% of newspaper/magazine/tvchannel newsreports/featurestories what is not being laid down in front of readers is the mention of the names of all those individuals or companies who did not comment or responded to the questions posed by the journalist for his/her story. This is a trend that started around 10 years ago and is now widely prevailing in the Indian media.

This is because, in the last 10 years, 8-9 out 10 editors in India feel (wrongly in my view) that if a company CEO or a political leader does not comment to their publications/TVchannels then readers will think these publications/TVchannels are less worthy or something like that. These 8-9 out of 10 editors will, however, occasionally allow a 'no comment' quote to creep in if the company/individual in question is not in their favoured/feared list.

Two things happen because of this brutal obsession with not being transparent about individuals/companies refusing to go on record:

1. The companies/individuals realise that they can get away with anything by just refusing to respond to a journalist's call or email or put forth any excuse like "he/she is travelling", "he/she is busy", "he/she is occupied with the preparation for the board meeting" or something like that. They are, therefore, able to manipulate the media and this works against the interests of the readers/viewers.

2. Since some comments have to appear in a story the editors make the lives of the journalists by telling them to "anyhow", "no matter what" or even
"beg" to get the companies/individuals to comment in their stories. Do you, as a reader/viewer, approve of this?

If very few companies/individuals are going on the record for any story then that does not mean that story should not be written. Most of the time the journalist has data/info to write out the story whether or not the company/individual goes on the record or not.

In my view, readers/viewers in India are really being taken for a ride by many media editors and even many journalists who willingly adhere to their editors' demands.

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